(On Cable TV, December 2018) There have been quite a few movies about the American presidency, but few of them as cutely romantic as Dave, in which a presidential impersonator gets the job on a long-term basis when the real president is medically incapacitated. The plot is familiar from there, but the real fun of the picture has to be seeing Kevin Kline in a dual role, with Sigourney Weaver as the wife who suspects that something is afoot, and Frank Langella as the villain trying to take over the United States through an unwitting patsy. Ving Rhames and Laura Linney also show up in smaller early roles. Oliver Stone has a funny cameo. Clearly, director Ivan Reitman is aiming more for a feel-good romantic fantasy than a hard-edged political thriller, especially given how the film plays with the idea of the everyday man replacement being better in all aspects of the job than the original. There’s an interesting comparison to be made here with near-contemporary The American President, but also with the classic idealistic films by Frank Capra, in which he took pleasure in scrutinizing the American political system to reveal the good intentions underneath it. Dave is a lightweight comedy, but a charming one, and certainly a welcome antidote to the kinds of heavier thrillers that the American presidency usually invites.
(On DVD, June 2017) I don’t yet have enough points of reference to make a definitive statement, but in-between movies such as Caddyshack, Meatballs, Police Academy, many others and now Stripes, there’s a very specific strain of early-eighties underdog comedy in which the institutions of American life (golf, summer camp, police, the military) are brought down to size by unrepentant slackers. Bill Murray leads Stripes with his early brand of nonchalant anarchism, taking a stand against the madness by defeating it with a complete lack of care. Stripes’ curiously ambiguous attitude toward military training is interesting: While its most ridiculous aspects are lampooned, it is a film made with the co-operation of the Army, and it does suggest that the end result can be incredibly rewarding for the right people. By the end, the slackers are defeating the Reds and rescuing their own. In-between, we do have a remarkable rah-rah-RAH sequence in which audiences are reminded that they are American and thus exceptional, and a weird-yet-expected shift from aimless sketch training comedy to more focused last-act suspense. The DNA match with Caddyshack is obvious with Murray and Harold Ramis sharing top billing, and Ivan Reitman handling directing duties. Stripes is messy by modern standards, but it’s not without its own charm.
(On DVD, November 2016) As a frothy tropical comedy featuring intergenerational romance, Six Days Seven Nights almost exactly what it claims to be. As a young woman (Anne Heche) and an older man (Harrison Ford, up to his usual grumpy persona) are stranded on a tropical island, misadventures pile up until they include bad weather, plane crashes, pirates and tropical survival. Most of it is in good fun, with the added appeal of tropical scenery. The main plot works reasonably well, but I can’t help but feel that it’s sabotaged by the subplot, in which the partners of the lost couple indulge in adultery and ultimately dictate the disappointing ending of the film. (This is one of the few romantic comedies in which it’s understandable not to root for the lead couple to remain together, as mismatched as they are. I give them six months.) David Schwimmer is OK as the abandoned subplot fiancé, but pales in comparison to Jacqueline Obradors’ far more spirited performance in the same vicinity. Otherwise, veteran comedy director Ivan Reitman keeps things moving and if Six Days Seven Nights doesn’t rise up much above the usual, it’s done in a genre that’s more agreeable than most. (As long as you can forgive the ending, that is.)